SXSW Review: ‘Tiny Furniture’

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Tiny Furniture
Directed by Lena Dunham

Before reviewing this film, I should provide a disclaimer: I am a recent college graduate, I majored in art, and I’m still, you know, figuring things out.  Disclaimer aside, I really, really enjoyed Lena Dunham’s new film about the difficulties of being a new college graduate with an unsteady handle on life.  But don’t worry, other demographics, you probably will too.

Writer and director Lena Dunham plays Aura, the brand new graduate who moves back in with her mother and teenage sister (played by real life mother and sister, Laurie Simmons and Grace Dunham). She reconnects with a childhood friend, lands a hostessing job and handles a pseudo-romantic fling or two.  There isn’t a terrible amount of plot here–Dunham is much more interested in exploring Aura’s identity issues and familial relationships than contriving conflict–and what plot there is plays out in a winningly unconventional fashion.

Aura is a great lead, and though Dunham’s acting is sometimes shaky, the character is a sympathetic and refreshingly realistic audience proxy. The film’s other actors follow suit, portraying their characters earnestly if not “professionally”, and lend each one impressive depth and believable motivation.  Laurie Simmons is especially moving as Aura’s detached artist mother, and, though we are only offered snippets of her story, she’s a well realized, compelling character in her own right.  Also good are Alex Karpovsky as Jed, a YouTube sensation and house guest with whom Aura forms a strange, parasitic relationship, and Jemima Kirke, who takes the saucy sidekick type to darker places without sacrificing the hilarity of her saucy essence.

For an indie coming of age picture by a young director, Tiny Furniture is surprisingly unhampered by oppressive quirk or clunky symbolism.  The film speeds tidily along, never demanding meaning from moments or prescribing any grand wisdom.  Furniture is flush with humor and visual poetry, but the real success is its familiarity.  You don’t have to be an upper-class New Yorker to recognize the bond between Simmons and Dunham, and you don’t need to be a college graduate to appreciate Dunham’s awkward fumbling with romance and employment. Scenes that might play as obnoxious under less assured guidance are undercut with an endearing self-consciousness.  It’s difficult as a reviewer to laud a film that explores the amorphous, far from dire, problems of the rich and well educated, but this one plays well as a portrait–or confessional–of a young woman in desperate search of a home.

-Emmet Duff

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